The previous article focused on the inevitability of marital conflict. I proposed that not being surprised by spousal conflict might make the pain of the argument sting less. Just to be clear, I don’t advocate for or expect constant bickering in spousal relationships. In light of taking the shock out of arguing with our partner, this article proposes that since disagreement is inevitable, at least there are ways we can navigate it to minimize damage and even foster peace with one another.
Have you ever seen the mini-series, Band of Brothers (HBO, 2001)? Band of Brothers follows Easy Company (U.S. Army 506th regiment of the 101st Airborne Division) from D-Day through V-Day in WWII. One episode is devoted to Bastogne, a definitive battle waged from foxholes in the forests of Belgium. The Allied and German soldiers both spend a winter in hand-dug fox-holes, exchanging bullets and mortars. Amidst the constant cold, soggy socks, exploding shells, and frostbite, E-Company must find a way to not only advance against their enemy but keep from arguing amongst themselves in the horrible conditions of war.
Simply translated to marriage, are you and your partner shooting at a common enemy or at each other? The circumstances of your life, specifically of your marriage, may seem grim sometimes. Part of the human condition is that when our beliefs, security, and peace of mind (our way of doing things) get threatened, we tend to dig in and fire back. Circumstances cause our core beliefs to come to the surface, our defenses to go up, and guns to come out. Often-times, our spouse lying in the trench with us seems to be the threat because their perspective on the circumstance is different from ours. I picture my wife and I sometimes as soldiers lying in a foxhole, feeling the pressure from our circumstances, shooting at each other instead of the difficult circumstance we are encountering together.
Let’s look at three common causes of marital conflict: financial difficulty, conflicting schedules, and third parties in your relationship (mother in law, coworker, ex). The position your spouse takes on these issues can feel like an assault to you. One partner wants financial structure, the other spends whatever is in their pocket. One partner works 2 jobs, the other stays at home with the children. One partner sees the woman/man at the office as “just a friend” and the other sees them as an intruder to your union.
On the battlefield of life, these are not just differences of opinion and perspective; if left unresolved these issues can damage a marriage. In the foxhole that marriage can be sometimes, fighting against your spouse about these things can damage your marriage too.
Are you fighting the enemies of strangling debt, fading connection, and the third wheel or are you shooting at “the spender“, the “over-worker“, and the “unfaithful one“? Do you see the difference? One perspective sees your spouse as a threat, the other sees the threat across the field of battle? What if you could team up to resolve the conflict? What if your perspective and your partners are weighted equally? What if you could build intimacy and even attraction for your spouse through resolving the conflict? The idea is to point your guns OUT at the issue and not IN towards your spouse. Here are three ways to potentially achieve peace in your foxhole and victory against real threat.
- Ask, don’t just tell. The way each of you is behaving or believes about an issue has a why behind it. Understanding your partner’s reasons concerning the issue at hand can foster intimacy and even provide solutions you may not have considered. For instance, you may believe that financial peace can be achieved through bank account control and budgeting. Subsequently, marital peace can be achieved through actually budgeting a spending account for the spender who wants more control. Learn why your spouse sees money the way they do and help each other understand why it pricks you. Ask why and listen to your partner even if you don’t immediately agree with what they are doing.
- Filter your stated perspective through love. You may want your partner around more because you enjoy their company, you love how they parent, and you feel overwhelmed around the house. As the working one, you may see your work and provision as love and care. Either way, communicate your side of the issue through the filter of “I love you”, not through that of “you are doing it wrong”. For instance, the statement, “I miss how much fun we have together, how well you love on the kids, and how much nicer things look and feel around the house when you are here” will most likely produce better results than, “You’re never around, good parents see their kids more, and the house is falling apart.” Sharing what you are feeling honestly and openly can be helpful, and if you come across as loving instead of offending, it helps disarm your spouse instead of making them duck and cover.
- When a conflict arises over difficult circumstances, voice the issue, not your spouse, as the enemy. We’ve all heard of the benefit of using “I feel” statements in an argument. This is a good place for that skill. Now, take it a half step further by not only saying, “I feel” before your concern, but directing how you feel toward the conflict, not toward our spouse. For instance, the statement, “I feel frustrated when FINANCES are so tight” is less threatening to your partner than saying, “I feel frustrated when YOU spend too much”. By switching up the target of frustration, a situation is created that may foster mutual understanding. If you put the responsibility on your partner, even focusing on your feelings, it still can put them on the defensive. It’s okay to state why you are concerned, just make the issue the target of that concern, not your partner.
Realizing that fighting WITH your spouse is better than fighting AGAINST them is a huge step toward resolution of issues that can hurt your marriage. These three pointers can help open doors to communication with your partner instead of the alternative of slamming one in their face or having it slammed in yours. Marriage can be difficult to navigate, and circumstances of life can be an assault upon it. Since marital conflict is inevitable and some seasons of your union can feel like a battlefield, it will do your marriage well to listen to your spouse, frame your concerns and fears in love, and remember that you are both in the same foxhole as partners with a common enemy. Fight WITH your spouse, not AGAINST them.
Get in touch with us today if you and your spouse are interested in marriage counseling in Palatine.